When Finbar Landed
When Finbar landed on a newly discovered world, it didn’t usually take him or his machines very long to classify, catalogue, categorise, file, tabulate, register, codify, analyse, pigeon-hole, index, cross-reference and generally digest whatever substantive matter it had to offer the greater mass of galactic civilisation.
But the planet Golfandobar IV, now called Murgleworf after Murgle the Reasonably Well-Known (in that part of the galaxy), presented him with a bit of a problem.
On the face of it, it was just another standard human-habitable world, pretty-much like a million others: a bit warmer than most, perhaps, atmospheric pressure a bit high, day a bit long, stuff like that. Nothing insurmountable. A bit of genetic engineering and/or terraforming would sort it out, if necessary.
But it was Finbar’s habit to sleep on each new world. Outdoors. He liked “The Great Outdoors.” Some asked, unkindly perhaps, why he didn’t sleep “outdoors” when his spaceship was cruising between the stars, but the fact is Finbar didn’t like too much radiation: it made his skin peel.
So anyway, Finbar took his sleeping bag, and trekked off into the wilderness on this planet, 4 hours after landing, to look for a nice spot for a bit of kip. What about wild animals? He could give them a kicking. It didn’t matter. What about poisonous plant-like life forms and insectoids? No problem. He didn’t care about them. His nano-enhanced metabolism could handle pretty-much anything anyway. He could eat mud and drink poison if he had to. Megafauna? The dinosaur-like creatures of Golfandobar IV? Well, he’d be OK. His stun gun would do the job nicely.
For someone with such a bureaucratic mentality when it came to classifying, cataloguing, categorising, etc., a planet, it might seem a bit strange that he then contradicts this meticulous approach totally when it becomes time to sleep. Well, that’s Finbar. Most of his species are a mass of contradictions, and he is no exception.
Anyway, to get back to the point, as usual on a new world, he trekked off into the wilderness (and it is all wilderness on a new world), and lay down to sleep in some small desert area about an hour’s walk from his spaceship. The local star, Golfandobar, was setting as he found the spot, and he gathered some woody materials together and created a small fire to burn some food with before he ate it (the food).
After an hour or so of munching beans and other burned materials, and staring into the fire, and thinking about nothing much, he threw some more woody material onto the fire to keep it going and lay down to sleep.
It wasn’t the sleeping that turned out to be the problem: it was the waking up in a cave that puzzled him. Finbar looked around. It was dark. He upped his night-vision, activating the light amplifiers built into his eyes. The fire had burned low, and had almost gone out: it must be morning. The ground was the same sandy stuff he had gone to sleep on, and the plants were the same as he remembered. It was just that instead of sky, there was rock overhead, maybe 20m up and to each side. No obvious way out, and no obvious clue as to what had happened.
He inhaled the air: it seemed OK. “Analysis?” he asked himself.
“Same as before,” came the reply from his built-in systems.
“What about the smoke from the fire?” he asked.
“But this is an enclosed space!” he exclaimed.
“Oxygen should be low and CO2 high!”
“Your problem, not mine.”
Finbar sighed. Open air in an enclosed space.
Maybe it was an illusion. He walked up to the rock on one side and touched it. It seemed real enough. He pressed his hand hard against it. It felt like rock. It tasted like rock. “Analysis?” “Rock.”
“You’re so funny.”
Maybe it had only appeared moments before he’d woken up. That would account for the air. It wouldn’t account for the rock as such though. He walked around the perimeter of the enclosed space. Lots of rock. Sand on the ground. No exit.
What would he do when the water, food and air ran out? Well, he could get by for a long time, if he had to.
“Spaceship?” he said.
“Yes, Finbar?” it replied. At least good old radio works, he thought.
“OK. Be there in five minutes.”
What to do for five minutes? Oh, yes. He turned to the nearest bit of cave wall, undid his fly and pissed against it. Still looks like rock, he thought. When he had finished and put his plumbing away again, he crouched down and placed his hand flat in the puddle of urine. “Recycle it,” he said. The ultra-microscopic nanomachines in his hand sucked much of the stuff up, storing the useful minerals throughout his body, and supplying him with a nice little drink at the same time, albeit by-passing his mouth. Some remained on the ground and the cave wall after a couple of minutes, but he couldn’t be bothered to hang around doing this for ages. He stood up.
He looked around. Cave. Rock. The usual.
“I’m just outside, Finbar,” said his spaceship.
“Just outside what?” Finbar asked. “What can you see?”
“A building? Describe it.”
“It is a big cube. Looks like white marble,” replied the spaceship, whose name, incidentally, was Snore-Stopper, and who could play a mean game of Galactic Empires.
“Where’s the entrance?” asked Finbar.
“I don’t see one. I’ll scan it and see what I can find, if you like.”
After a few moments, Snore-Stopper came back to him: “It is marble on the outside, and various types of granite, sandstone and other rock on the inside. The composition is obviously artificial as it merges unnaturally from one to the other as you go in. It has a hollow hemispherical space at ground level in its centre, where you are. I don’t see any exits.”
“OK. Stand by.” Finbar went back to his fire, threw some more woody stuff onto it, and sat down to prepare himself a breakfast of some more burnt matter: he’d brought along some ‘bread’ for toasting. Obviously, someone was playing games. Well, he’d wait a while: he wasn’t on any schedule.
As he munched his toast, he wondered what the purpose of the cave might be. To keep him prisoner? He knew he could get out if he really wanted to, but maybe his ‘captors’ didn’t. Maybe this was their form of zoo and they could study him with remote sensors.
“Snore-Stopper, check for sensor scans, and keep me informed.”
“OK,” came the reply. “Nothing showing at the moment.”
Maybe it was a test: perhaps he was supposed to get out to show how intelligent he was. Or, perhaps he was supposed to stay in, to show how intelligent he was. Pot luck on that one. Plus, he didn’t know if it would be in his best interests to pass, or to fail. So, he would do as he felt and hope for the best.
“What’s the air like in here?” he asked his internal mechanisms.
“Same as before,” they said, in his mind.
Hmm… he thought: it is being kept fresh.
Now what? He thought to himself. This place is boring.
Finbar could wait, but not for long, it seems. So much for intelligence testing, anyway. I’ll dig my way out, he thought. But then he realised that he didn’t have a shovel, and anyway, digging seemed a bit too much like hard work.
He wondered if he could infiltrate his way out: it might take a day or so for his built-in nanomachines to disassemble his body and transport it through the rock wall, but it could probably be done. The philosophers told everyone that disassembling a brain didn’t result in death, except temporarily. Of course, they could be wrong. But each of his brain cells had been replaced one-by-one over time by his body naturally anyway, so what was the difference? He didn’t really like the idea, he decided. A last resort, perhaps.
He lay down on the sand with his hands behind his head. He’d rest a while and think about it.
* * *
Snore-Stopper, meanwhile, had not been idle: she had been reading her e-mail: it was a good way to communicate across galactic distances, since the data could pass easily through sub-microscopic wormholes and traverse the galaxy in minutes. And, unlike verbal communications, it didn’t interrupt people – not that that bothered spaceships like Snore-Stopper, of course: they could multi-task with a vengeance. Still, Snore-Stopper enjoyed reading her messages.
Today, there were several, including one from her friend, a military cruiser called Sparkle. Sparkle was on the Xeno-Intelligence career track, as indeed was Snore-Stopper, but Sparkle was further ahead and doing very well, having just passed another exam for another systems upgrade. Before long, it looked like Sparkle would be allowed to join a First Contact team, and be allowed to seek out alien sapients and machines and make contact with them. As it happened, Snore-Stopper was already doing this, at Finbar’s behest, but in Snore-Stopper’s case, it was strictly unofficial. Snore-Stopper was gaining in experience, whereas Sparkle was gaining in training. Both would be necessary in the long run, of course, but for now it was handy to be able to compare notes.
The next e-mail was rather strange:
Text: Greetings, visitor to our world. We are Kleth. What is your purpose here?
Uh-oh, thought Snore-Stopper. Here comes trouble. She ran a quick search on ‘Kleth’ but found nothing. After a few moments’ thought, she composed a reply:
Attachment: Protocols, Diplomatic, Standard, New Contact.doc
Subject: Re: Hello
Text: I am an explorer, a member of the galactic civilisation known generally as ‘Ramundo 7’. My purpose is to seek new systems for potential colonisation, trade or exploitation. Our approach is not hostile and we consider occupied worlds subject only to potential trade and political affiliation of whatever sort emerges from discussions. Our standard diplomatic protocols are attached, should you wish to pursue this contact with the appropriate authorities.
Snore-stopper dispatched the e-mail, electronically tracking its progress via her wormhole chip to the nearest relay station, and thence back towards the galactic centre to the anonymiser, where the trail, of course, disappeared. Whoever was sending the e-mail didn’t want to be traced: a bit strange really, since presumably it came from this very world that Snore-stopper was sitting on right now. Presumably. Or maybe not: this might be just one of many Kleth worlds.
A reply came in:
Subject: Re: Hello
Text: First: We do not wish for colonisation, trade, or exploitation, but will examine the diplomatic protocols and determine how to proceed.
Second: One of your animals was caught wandering around in our ecosystem. We have caged it, but would appreciate it if you could remove it forthwith.
Third: Our apologies, but please remove yourself as well.
Snore-stopper chuckled to herself. Hadn’t better let Finbar see this! Animals were very touchy about machine intelligence. Even though they all knew the machines were vastly superior, it still made most of them uncomfortable. Snore-stopper supposed it couldn’t be very pleasant to think of oneself as one of the least intelligent beings in the Universe, and sentient animals filled that category nicely.
Subject: Re: Hello
Text: First: Very well; I am not a member of the diplomatic corps but will arrange for them to contact you.
Second: I shall recover the animal, but please remove the cage to facilitate this.
Third: Thank you for your conversation; I shall leave your world shortly.
Well, that’s that then, she thought. Now: what to tell Finbar?
* * *
Back in the ‘cage’, Finbar was still bored. He decided that he was fed up enough to try something. He got up (again) and walked over to the cave wall. He pressed a fingertip against it, and told his systems to send a nanoprobe into the rock, with a view to finding a way out.
“Unable to probe,” they said.
“Keep trying,” he responded, irritated. After a while, he began to feel like a bit of an idiot standing there with his fingertip pressed against the rock.
He was just about to give up, when the cave got brighter. Looking up and behind himself, he saw that a small hole had appeared in the roof. He looked back to where his finger was against the rock, and saw that the rock itself was beginning to look a little fuzzy.
Ha! he thought, and stepped back. I knew it! The nanoprobes are able to deconstruct the rock. Excellent! I should be out of here within the hour. He went back to his fire and began packing up. After a few minutes he was able to cut his light amplification off and rely on the local sunlight.
Tosspot of a planet, he thought. What kind of a place does that to a person? “Spaceship?” he said out loud.
“Finbar?” replied Snore-Stopper.
“Any ideas about how this rock building got here? I seem to be able to deconstruct it with nanoprobes.”
“Yes. It appears that this planet’s ecosystem may have been infected with nanowarriors at some time in the distant past: the product of some ancient war, perhaps. The cave may have been some self-replicating military building or bunker of some sort. Once you are out of there, I believe we should leave and spend some time decontaminating ourselves, just in case.”
Finbar nodded. It made sense. But… “How come I’m still alive? Wouldn’t the nanowarriors have simply deconstructed me?”
“I don’t know, Finbar,” replied Snore-Stopper. “It may be that your actions were not perceived as hostile, or it may be that your built-in systems were able to neutralise any direct attack – mine too, indeed.”
Once Finbar was out of the cave, he boarded Snore-Stopper, and they left Golfandobar IV never to return.